Saturday, February 22, 2014


Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the fifth of the seven:

“I am thirsty.”  (John 19:28)

It started in the Garden. The savior prayed with such anguish, His sweat mingled with His blood and dripped to the ground. It was in the Garden that soldiers beat Him with their fists, pulled His beard, spit in His face. Then they dragged Him into the city and shuffled Him from Pilate to Herod, and back again to Pilate. They whipped Him without mercy, without hardly giving Him time to catch His breath. Then they pressed a crown comprised of thorns into His forehead. Blood oozed into His eyes and tracked down His cheeks. Mocking soldiers then laid the cross across His shoulders and forced Him to carry it to the hill, the hill that looked like a skull. The hill where He would die.

“I am thirsty.”

Before the soldiers nailed Him to the cross someone offered Jesus a sponge dipped in vinegar mixed with gall (Matthew 27:34). The vinegar they offered Him was weak wine commonly used in Palestine to quench thirst,but the gall was a bitter liquid with narcotic and anesthetic properties. Soldiers often gave it to prisoners about to be crucified as a way to dull their senses so they wouldn’t fight against the nails being hammered into their limbs. Sometimes friends gave it to those hanging on the cross to lessen their agony.

"I am thirsty."

When Jesus tasted the gall He turned away. He would not drink the drug. He would finish the Father’s plan to its fullest course and its fullest cost. A short while later, when they nailed Him to the cross, someone gave Him the plain vinegar.

“I am thirsty.”

After all He’d suffered by the time they’d hammered spikes into His hands and feet, I do not doubt He was thirsty. I am sure thirst consumed Him.
Think of it. Jesus was the Lord of Heaven. The King of the Universe. He never needed to thirst. Or hunger. Or suffer pain. Yet He demonstrated by His life and by His death a ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness.’ Even on the cross, He would accomplish His Father’s will. That is why His death – and His thirst – serves as an illustration for us.

In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote, "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” And the psalmist wrote: As a deer pants for the water, so my soul pants after thee (Psalm 42:1).

Restlessness. Thirst.

We who belong to Christ through our faith and baptism “have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20). When the Holy Spirit enters our lives He always creates within us a restlessness for God. A hunger for God. A thirst for God. If we are not restless for God, if we do not increasingly hunger and thirst for Him, we ought to wonder why.

“I am thirsty.”

Many things at first seem to quench our spiritual thirst, but in the end serve simply to anesthetize us to it. The Holy Spirit spoke of those counterfeit thirst-quenchers as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). But counterfeits can never fully satisfy. The only place to quench our God-designed thirst, our God-designed restlessness, is at His fountain, devoting ourselves to a daily drinking – a lifelong drinking – from that fountain through reception of the Sacraments, daily prayer, Scripture study, and humble obedience to the Holy Spirit.

“I am thirsty.”

Nothing but spiritual drink will ever satisfy our spiritual thirst. Nothing. Because God created us that way.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Other Side of the Door

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the fourth of the seven:


My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

As our home Bible study wound to a close, a young mother ran out to her car for a package she’d forgotten. She left her two-year-old daughter with half a dozen adults in the living room. But when Berea saw Mommy leave, her face froze with panic. She ran as quickly as her little legs could carry her and stretched in vain for the doorknob. Her screams brimmed with terror, as if she believed Mommy would never to return from the other side of the door.

One of the other women lifted Berea into her arms and tried to calm her. But it was no use. The toddler wanted no one but Mommy. And mommy was gone.

A few moments later, Berea’s mother returned. When she opened the door she lifted Berea into her arms, rubbed her back and spoke tenderly into her ear. The child quickly quieted down. Mommy had returned.

Some theorize Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have your forsaken Me?, only to draw attention to Psalm 22 in which the psalmist prophesied of Christ’s crucifixion nearly a thousand years before it happened (see Psalm 22:11-18). When Jesus quoted the first line of the psalm, they say, it was to demonstrate His fulfillment of that prophecy.

I think there was another, far more significant reason.

St. Luke tells us that while Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, imploring the Father to take the cup He was about to drink from His hands, Jesus’ sweat ‘became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44) . Bloody sweat is a rare, but well-documented physical phenomena called (hematidrosis) known to occur in some people suffering extreme stress. Jesus dreaded the crucifixion not only because of the physical pain He’d suffer, but He also knew what it would mean when He took upon Himself the sins of the world. The prophet Isaiah is only one of many Old Testament prophets to speak about the results of sin: But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear (Isaiah 59:2).  

Separation.  From God.  

The Holy Spirit says this about Jesus: “Though He was in the form of God . . . . [He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7).  And so, being fully God and fully Man, Jesus experienced all the frailty of humanity – hunger, thirst, pain, cold, heat . . . . And now He was about to experience in our place what He in His deity could never experience.

Separation from the Father.

St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: [The Father] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).  And in his letter to the church at Galatia, he added: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).

As the most holy Lord Jesus hung between heaven and earth, He did not simply take our collective sins on Himself, but actually became Sin – became Sin – so you and I who are ‘in Christ,” you and I who trust Him as our redeemer, our reconciler, our savior, could become the very righteousness of God. 

Oh! Think of it!

Jesus, who knew the incomprehensible intimacy of the Triune Godhead, for the first time in eternity was separated from His Father. For that one moment – oh, but for the eternal God that moment must have seemed forever – for that one moment the Father turned away from Him who had become Sin.

No wonder He cried out, My God, My God. Why have You forsaken Me!, for in some mysterious and inexplicable way known only to the Holy Trinity, Jesus was suddenly on the other side of the door. Suddenly separated from His Father. Suddenly alone.

That is the fathomless horror our sin caused Him. Your sin. My sin. And, for anyone who cares to see, that is also the irrefutable evidence of the matchless love the Son has for the sinner – you and me – so we would not have to be forever separated from God, forever on the other side of the door.

Thank you. Oh! Thank you, Jesus.

Father of mercy, like the prodigal son I return to You and say: "I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son." Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom You promised Paradise: "Lord, remember me in Your kingdom." Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on You with trust: "Purify my heart, and help me to walk as a child of light. —Author unknown

Sunday, February 9, 2014

To His Last Breaths

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the third of the seven:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:26-27)

Most representations of the crucified Jesus are remarkably sanitized. Rarely have I seen more than a few streaks of red paint around the wounds in His hands, forehead, feet, and side. But that is not at all what Jesus looked like when He died.

It started with flogging. Soldiers tied Jesus’ hands to the whipping post and stripped off his robe. Then one of them swung rock and bone- embedded whips against Jesus’ back, buttocks, and legs, slicing into His flesh until strips of skin hung from his body. Small veins and arteries oozed and spurted blood with each heartbeat and dripped down His back, His thighs, His legs. The pavement at His feet was moist with dirt and congealed blood.
After the vicious beating, Jesus dragged his cross to the execution site where soldiers tossed it to the ground and threw Him onto it. The spikes they hammered through His wrists and feet tore through exquisitely sensitive nerves. Electrifying pain exploded along His limbs.

As He hung between heaven and earth, breathing became an all-consuming struggle. Gravity pulled relentlessly on His diaphragm, forcing Him to repeatedly push against His feet and flex His arms to breathe. Yet, every movement intensified the strain on His ravaged nerves, and each breath forced His bleeding back against the splintered wood, reopening the raw wounds. Every breath, every movement, every moment on the cross inflamed His torture.

It is that picture in my mind of His horrific and bloody death that makes His Third Word – this one to His mother and His disciple – so poignant. And it is there that I so often miss the significance of the moment.

Jesus – his eyes alternately glazing over from dehydration, exhaustion, and throbbing pain, and then focusing on the soldiers gambling for his clothing, and the mob cursing and jeering – at one point His eyes locked with His mother’s.

I have sometimes wondered what she was thinking as she watched her only Son suffer. It must be a parent’s worst nightmare to bury a child, and Mary was living that nightmare. Surely Simeon’s prophecy bit at her memory, “A sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35).

Jesus gathered His rapidly waning strength and, in the language and culture of the day, fixed His eyes on hers and spoke tenderly, “Woman, here is your son.” And to John, He said, “Here is your mother.”  In 21st century language, He said, “My dear mother, My work is nearly done. John will now take care of you.” And to His beloved disciple He said, “John, I am counting on you to take care of My mom. Treat her as your own mother.”

St. Paul would say decades later, “Whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).  St. James would write, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress . . .  (James 1:27).  And speaking to those who thought themselves religious, Jesus responded, Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) —  then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God” (Mark 7:10-13).

Despite his nearly incomprehensible agony, Jesus continued to do what was right and necessary. In one of His last acts in life,HH He made certain His parent would be taken care of after His death.

True religion is not simply attending Mass, receiving the Sacraments, devoting ourselves to prayer and the study of the Scriptures. True faith requires we take care of others – and especially our parents, if they are still alive.

Are we tender toward them? Patient? Do we treat them with dignity and respect? Do they need financial help? Do we often call or visit? Do we model the Christian lifestyle they taught us and lived before us during our years in their home?  St. John, in his third epistle wrote: I have no greater joy than to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 John 4). Oh, how great a joy it is for aging parents to know their children walk in Truth.

To His last breaths, Jesus took care to take care of His mother. How ought we who follow in Christ’s footsteps behave toward our parents?